Time and again, you must have heard this.
Branding matters more than anything.
Huh, you wonder.
How can a frivolous exercise like branding matter more than, say, sales or product development?
Because the truth is this.
First you work toward building your brand, and then your brand works for you.
It builds your business.
Because your brand defines the merit of your work.
This might sound strange to you, but do you know the real reason why nobody wants to work with you?
Well…it is never the price. Not even your skills and qualifications. It is about your image, your message, your identity. What and how people perceive you?
Pay attention to it.
Work toward building it.
What do your audiences associate with you when they hear your name?
How do you make them feel?
What vibes do you give off?
These are the questions you need to consider when you are building your brand.
But, how should you build your brand?
Before I discuss that, let me clarify one thing.
Branding is not restricted to logo and lingo; it is the image you build and the reputation you create: what people perceive you as.
In a way, it sets the expectation for your work.
For instance, we know that Tim Ferris’s brand is productivity. Which means every solution he provides will focus on the fastest, easiest, and efficient way of doing things – whatever that may be.
What is that one thing YOUR work will always guarantee?
You discover that as part of your brand-building process.
Here are the 3 Steps You Can Follow to Build Your Brand
Warning: It is different from the traditional brand-building strategies that tie everything around your audience. This one is all about YOU first.
While there is nothing wrong with the traditional process, my observation and understanding is that when you are new and try to be what your audience expects you to be, you lose your voice in the process. Almost always. You struggle to fit a mold that is not you. That will start you off on the wrong footing and diminish your credibility before it is built.
Step #1: Discover what about you is intrinsically interesting. (Remember that segment from Jimmy Kimmel?) Whatever it is, explore that. You don’t have to be an expert. Not even Colbert-ish. Simply know what makes you YOU. Think of it this way. What would you say if you are pitching yourself to someone? There must be something about you that will make it leap out and say, “I’m the one.”
I remember I had this professor of political campaign management at Columbia University, Jefrey Pollock. He is a Democratic pollster, and has been a part of some of the most high-profile political campaigns. What makes Jef appealing to his students, clients, and colleagues (yes, I have spoken to some of them) is the fact that he is unabashedly vocal about his work and politics. And his sense of humor is uniquely his own. He can sometimes be blunt, but boy is he persuasive!
Knowing and expressing who you are in the fullest, most complete way gives you an edge that is essential and tough to ignore and forget.
Step # 2: Lay it (what is interesting about you) out in the open. And please don’t think that that “interesting” thing has to be your story. It can be an idiosyncrasy, some quirk, whatever.
My friend, JC Little, for example, is an animation artist for the past 30+ years, and is the co-creator of the Disney-syndicated kids’ TV show, My Life Me. On her blog, The Animated Woman, she makes drawings, which are sometimes eclectic, sometimes wild, but always interesting.
Her message is not didactic or profound. In fact, her persona screams wackiness. It reflects in everything she does: on Twitter, she was attracted to the work of Justin Lyons and decided to make a three-minute-long film about his blog. “As a result, he got so much regard that I thought it’s not fair,” she told me once during our conversation. “I also wanted it.”
That’s JC for you. Her message is not her story: it goes beyond the content to the meaning conveyed through actions and reactions. And even choices.
Step # 3: Incorporate elements of it in your marketing collateral. Your marketing collateral doesn’t need to be perfect; it has to have elements that tell people it’s you, YOUR business.
Don’t stress over being appreciated. You can’t make everyone like you. That’s never going to happen. People should either love you or hate you.
Reactions, especially those rooted in deep-seated emotions, are better than indifference.
Get people charged up, but don’t stay on the sidelines. Middle ground is for mediocres.
Also, forget being perfect.Imperfections are sexy. And relatable. The ace cinematographer, Conrad Hall says, “There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.”
Sure, it is difficult to let people see the real you. It’s scary, and sometimes risky. You feel naked. But, that’s the only way people will connect with you.
A little vulnerability can go a long way.
Look. Branding is like wooing.
The little things count.
The anticipation matters.
So, take it slow.
But, build it.
In fact, build it before your business.
Because people place a premium on brands, and are willing to forgive mistakes by brands they know and prefer.
So, put in the effort in the beginning. It will set the momentum for your growth.
Think of it as the insurance for your business. At the very least, it takes care of the ‘what ifs’ in case something goes wrong.